A 'Dear John' Letter
“I know that you're not accustomed to receiving letters of resignation, but I have some things I need to get off my chest before I leave, so here goes. I hope my letter gets your attention. If it does, maybe you won't lose too many more plumbers.
“We've come a long way together. I still remember when you first hired me. Back then, I had to repeat 'righty tighty, lefty loosey' every time I grabbed a pipe wrench. That was when you were still working out of your garage. Sometimes we'd even get a home-cooked breakfast. Those were some good times all right!
“When the city finally made you move to a commercial location, I knew we had seen the end of home-cooked breakfasts. I figure that's just the price of growing up, but now that you have six service trucks on the road, there's no time to just kick back. It seems that you're constantly trying to swing some sort of deal or you're away at another seminar or who knows what, but I guess that's part of growing into a big businessman.
“I know you're trying to make this business grow, but I cringe every time you go off to a seminar. When you come back from one of those meetings, I already know what will happen. Besides another price increase, there will usually be some new piece of paperwork or a new procedure we'll have to keep up with. And we'll have a new way to figure our paychecks. I'm sure all these things are paying off some how or another, but I can tell you this - no matter how you figure it, my paycheck is more when I work like there's no tomorrow and it takes a hit when the phones don't ring. But sometimes it takes a hit just because of the price increase or the new procedure we have to do. In other words, when you go to a seminar, it usually costs me money or time or both.
“I've been growing, too. I've taken advantage of every training course you've offered, both sales and technical. But it seems that the more I know, the harder my job becomes. Do you remember last month when I took that manufacturer's certification course so I could handle more challenging problems? When I came home, my wife really let me have it. Do you know why? It's because the more skills I add to my bag of tricks, the more emergencies I'll get called out for. It's not that I mind being the 'go-to' guy, but she's tired of never being able to plan a weekend, or even a night out at the movies for that matter.
“Besides getting called out at odd hours, I keep getting calls from the junior techs. I love helping them out and believe it's important to help them learn, but these calls eat into my productivity bonus. It's hard to get much work done with one hand on the cell phone. To add insult to injury, this guy Marcus that you hired about a year ago has become your favorite because of his top sales numbers. While the rest of us are out there trying to take care of customers, he's cherry-picking jobs. I know he has to be selective about what he gets into because he only knows how to do three things: replace water heaters, replace toilets and replace faucets. If it gets more complicated than that, one of us ends up on the job.
“Have you ever bothered to look at the work he does? And why does he get to show up late, skip meetings and turn in paperwork late while the rest of us are trying to follow the rules? I know one thing for certain - nobody bothers him for advice because he doesn't know much and is too arrogant to share it if he did know something. I know he turns in the highest sales numbers, but this guy makes me think that you don't care about quality at all. I think you've turned greedy on me. I just hope the TV newshounds don't catch him in a sting.
“If you're worried that I'm going over to Lickity Split Plumbing, don't. They did offer me quite a bit more money, but it looks to me like they're going in the same direction you are. I would still be working my tail off, getting nothing more than a paycheck and a vacation. I'm only 40 years old and I'm already finding it harder to get these bones in motion in the mornings. What is it going to be like when I'm 50?
“So, what I've decided to do is to launch out on my own. Nobody knows more about plumbing than I do, so I can do just about any work that comes along. I hate doing bookkeeping, but my wife will do that for me so I can concentrate on plumbing. At least I'll be getting paid for all my extra effort. Maybe I can get an insurance plan and retirement program going for my family. Who knows, maybe in a few years I'll have plumbers working for me so I can relax a little, just like you. It sure would be nice to know that relaxing doesn't mean the money stops coming in.
“The bottom line is that I no longer see myself having a future here. I hope there are no hard feelings. I'll see you around.
To the “Joes” who are reading this column: Could this be your letter? Does it seem like your company cares more about sales than professionalism? Do you feel like you're just another warm body in a service truck? Do you see yourself in this same role a decade from now?
And to the business owners: What would “John” say to Joe's letter? Would he take it to heart and find ways to improve morale and opportunities for the people that make him successful, or would he simply hang out a “help wanted” sign in search of the next warm body?
Although I penned this letter from Joe's perspective, Joe may or may not have a clear picture of what's really going on. What would you tell Joe if you're John? What would you add if you were Joe? If you know what it's like to be in Joe's or John's shoes, send me an e-mail. We'll fill in some of the gaps with your contributions.